Welcome to our newest installment of our Weekend Travel Inspiration series, A Rendezvous with Rovers. This week we’re happy to bring you two people that Jim and I have known for years. When we met Lori and Randy we were all teaching in the same area of Japan and absolutely loving it. Little did I know back then what these two had up their sleeves. Their website, Freetirement, tells all about how they made a sound financial plan to retire early and live the life that only dreams are made of as they travel the world. Just last week, we were able to visit with Randy and Lori and catch up. Read more to find out about their inspirational journey.
Please tell us a little about you and your family?
Randy and I are early retired former Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) teachers. We are originally from Mississippi, but we lived for the past sixteen years in Japan. We also have a son who is a senior at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. He must have inherited the wanderlust gene from us because he spent the past school year in Xi’an, China for a study abroad program to become fluent in Mandarin. His dream is to live and work overseas one day.
How was it that you were able to retire at such an early age to follow your dream, and why did you choose Chiang Mai as your home. Will you stay there?
Saving has been a part of our lives from the beginning of our marriage. Even though our salaries were not big, we managed to save a little bit every month. We adopted the mantra of “paying ourselves first.” The returns on our investments in the beginning were small, but we knew this would be a long journey and we had to have faith in our plan and the system. When we moved overseas and began working for DoDDS, the salary and benefits allowed us to ramp up our savings to nearly 50% of our income. Our goal was to retire by 55 years old, but we started to get antsy and began investigating early retirement options. We were being pulled to travel and explore so we decided to make it happen a lot sooner than we initially thought. Most people are still amazed that we were able to save and retire in our mid 40s with two big market corrections (dot.com burst and housing bubble). Not only did we survive these events, but we actually thrived. When people wanted out of the market during these times, we actually increased our monthly contributions and basically bought stocks on sale. By “dollar cost averaging”, we bought stocks low and our investments increased multiple times. Following this basic principle allowed us to leave work on our terms and begin this life of traveling and exploring new countries and cultures. After much research, we decided to live in Chiang Mai our first year. We had been to Thailand several times during our working years in Japan and we were very familiar with the culture. We knew our money could stretch very far in a place like this. It also had many modern and western conveniences to soften the impact of the transition. Our plan was to stay in Thailand for one year then travel through Europe for a few months before making our way down to Central and South America, places we have never been.
What inspires you to travel? Describe your travel philosophy. Are you budget or luxury travelers? Do you go on tours? Do you like to laze around or go for the gusto?
Since Randy is a former history/geography teacher, he has longed to see the places that he has talked about and taught to students. Interacting with people from different cultures is very enriching. We love meeting new people and sharing ideas about life and everything the world has to offer. We have adopted the philosophy of “slow travel.” We do not have time limits (other than various countries’ visa limitations). This allows us to travel during non-peak times so we get reduced rates on travel expenses such as airfare and hotels. Slow travel also allows us to get to know the people and culture that surround us and it makes it so much more rewarding.
We are a mixture of both budget and luxury. We use AirB&B a lot for discounted rates as well as Couchsurfing, which is free. These are great ways to get to know your hosts and learn valuable insight from the people who live there. Every once in a while we will book a more upscale hotel when we want to pamper ourselves. This pertains to travel as well. If we can get a cheap enough airfare, we will do that instead of taking the bus. Because we are retired, our pace is our own. We can go as fast or as slow as we want. We dictate the pace of our travel which is very refreshing since we spent a lifetime of working under the clock.
What types of places call to you? I know you’ve been to some really off-the-beaten path places, are these what you prefer?
We are open to any place we can get to. In our early years we went to a lot of tourist destinations. This is not necessarily bad, because they are famous for a reason. Our school schedule only allowed us so much time, so getting off the beaten path was not always the easiest thing to do. Now, our early retirement schedule allows us to be more flexible and see areas that we might not have been able to get to earlier in our careers. We prefer any place that will increase our knowledge of other cultures. It can be in a big city or in the countryside. There is always something to learn no matter where you go. For Randy, number one on his bucket list was scratched off this past February. He and our son, Chase, hiked to Mt. Everest Base Camp. They both immensely enjoyed the trek and the experience they had interacting with nature and the people of Nepal.
Everyone always asks the impossible question of what is your favorite place, but just tell us a couple of places that you just love or surprised you, or a place you find yourself going back to, and maybe a place that was a little disappointing and didn’t live up to its reputation.
This is a very hard question, because we think there are always positives and negatives of any place you go. We both really love ancient history, so gazing out at China from the Great Wall, exploring the public baths of ancient Rome, walking the city streets of Pompeii, or hiking up to the Acropolis in Athens is like stepping back in time. We try to visualize those places and how it was in all its glory and splendor. We believe the most disappointing things are how commercial some of these areas have become. We understand people trying to make a living, but it takes a little bit away from the mystique when someone tries to get you to buy a “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirt after you saw that magnificent structure.
I know you are on a long trip to Europe for this stage of your travels. What are you looking forward to, and what will you do after it’s over?
We will spend most of our time in eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia). This is a part of Europe that a lot of people don’t know about. We plan on looking at some European retirement stops such as Croatia and Montenegro. We will do this before sailing back to the U.S. on a repositioning cruise with Celebrity Cruise Line. We will make it back to Florida just in time to see our son graduate from college and start his own life long adventure. At the beginning of 2016 we will travel to Central and South America for a few years checking out those fantastic countries.
Finally, if you could inspire someone to start traveling, which place would you recommend to him or her as a good starting destination and why? Are there any places that you wouldn’t travel to your first time out and why?
Everyone is a different type of traveler so it’s hard to give just one piece of advice. For those who need to build their comfort outside of the U.S., maybe going first to a European nation such as Great Britain could be easier for them to adapt. Others want to jump in with both feet so they might want to try Asia. Cultures in this part of the world are very different than what we grew up with in the States, but they are very rewarding when you get yourself out of your comfort zone. The only advice I would give when traveling is to be humble, open, and remember you might not agree with all aspects of a certain culture, but you need to respect their beliefs and customs.